Posted in Kafevend Blog

Welcome back to the Kafevend blog- rounding out this week's posts is another concerning itself with tea, this time looking at its role in British society a little over a hundred years ago, at the turn of the 20th century.

At the end of January 1901, Queen Victoria's long reign came to an end and she was succeeded by her eldest son Albert Edward. He became King Edward VII, and the ten years of his rule became known as the Edwardian era. In contrast to the isolation Victoria kept herself in during the later years of her reign, Edward was a much more public figure and was the figurehead for a new style and fashion that swept through the elite in society. It was also a time for drastic change- throughout the decade and beyond, the rights of women and workers were increasingly fought over as the suffragette movement began and the labour party was founded.

For those at the top of society, tea created a way to socialise and no doubt show off their well appointed homes. In the middle of the 19th century, the meal known as afternoon tea had been formalised by Duchess Anna Russell. As dinner came to be served later and later, folk would find it difficult to make it from lunch until dinner- even lunch itself was a creation to tide people over between breakfast and dinner. Whilst staying at Belvoir castle, she began to have a light snack of cakes and sandwiches along with tea to stave off the hunger. She was soon inviting her friends to join her, and afternoon tea became quite the fashion.

By the Edwardian era, afternoon tea had become a very formal event, with certain expectations to be met. A wide variety of food was on offer: boullion (soup), sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, scones and other pastries were brought to the table. Some of these items would be displayed in an item known as a curate, a light wooden framework that carried a stack of three plates. Loose tea leaves would be brewed in a teapot and served in delicate and intricately decorated cups and saucers. Even the appropriate attire had to be taken into account- a dress known as the tea gown became the fashion, worn specifically for entertaining guests or family at home. By this point, afternoon tea had become less about making it until dinner time and more about showing off to your mates!

You can still experience an Edwardian afternoon tea (tea gown optional) if you find yourself in Birmingham one day. The city's Museum and Art Gallery plays host to a renovated Edwardian tea room. You can enjoy a traditional light afternoon tea there, or plump for something more filling like a full English breakfast. They even have you covered if you aren't a fan of tea, as coffee is available too!

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